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Top 5 Phillies team questions going into 2013


It’s been a little longer of an off-season than the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans would have liked. Last year, the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, and the uncertainty surrounding the core group of veterans as well as newcomers raises some doubt as to whether the team will be able to compete with and Nationals and Braves this season. Join us as we ask the important questions going into 2013. Here they are:

1. Will Roy Halladay bounce back?

There was talk around spring training last season that Halladay was not his usual self. While Halladay scoffed at the reports, turns out those reports were right. Halladay was suffering from a strained lat muscle as well as back issues. As a result, Halladay’s winHalladay: Lee/Associated Press total and ERA were his worst since 2004. Halladay will be 36 in May.

As you know, most pitchers his age who aren’t aided in some form by PEDs don’t miraculously regain mileage on their fastball. Although Cole Hamels cemented his status as the team’s ace last season, the Phillies need a healthy and consistent Roy Halladay to recover from his injuries, or their rotation takes a tremendous hit.

2. How will Ryan Howard/Chase Utley play coming off injuries?

There’s no need to rehash Howard’s achilles injury, but everybody knew he wouldn’t be one hundred percent in 2012. It truly takes a year to recover from the brutal injury Howard suffered, so a bounce back year is expected from him. Howard might not be a .300 hitter like he was in his MVP season of 2006, but he isn’t a .219 hitter like he was in 2012. He may no longer be the player who hit 47 home runs with regularity, but 32 home runs and 110 runs batted in would work just fine. Simply having him in the lineup makes the Phillies’ offense better, and he IS a bigger loss than Chase Utley was to this Phillies team last year. Let’s hope his injury is a thing of the past, or this offense takes a massive hit.

As far as Utley goes, nobody really knows except Utley. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009, he’s come into spring training the last two years unable to play, and he is now 34 years old. You can’t reverse the aging process, and there’s very little reason to believe Utley’s condition will improve over time. Just having him in the lineup improves the makeup of the offense, but he’s got to stay in the lineup. Utley becomes a free agent after 2013, so it’s going to be very interesting which direction the Phillies decide to take in regards to his future with the team. Always a fan favorite despite his declining numbers, do the Phils turn the page after this year? Or do they run the risk of setting off a possible public relations nightmare by letting him move on?

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3. Just how good can this bullpen be?

With Michael Stutes and Jose Contreras lost in the early part of the season, the Phillies managed to blow 13 eighth-inning leads in 2012. This season will be different, with plenty of competition among the Phillies’ young arms combined with the addition of some new (and old) veterans in the back end.

While he faltered at times last year, Jonathan Papelbon had an overall nice season in 2012. You should expect more of the same from him in the closer’s role. The all-important eighth inning will hopefully go a lot easier for the Phils this year with the addition of newcomer Mike Adams, who is expected to be Papelbon’s setup man. Adams, who is recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, was arguably the best setup man in the game over the last five seasons prior to his condition. Despite a dip in performance, Adams ERA in the past five years is still only 1.98.  In an interesting move last week, the Phillies brought back right-hander Chad Durbin on a one-year deal. Durbin, a member of the 2008 World Champions, is probably going to take innings from the youngsters, but he’s a proven veteran and most likely an insurance policy if the competition falters. Veteran right-handers Aaron Cook, Juan Cruz and Rodrigo Lopez were also signed to minor league contracts in the off-season and  will report to spring training as non-roster players.

Rounding out the veterans is the extremely inconsistent Antonio Bastardo. I don’t really know what happened to the Bastardo after the first half of 2011, but I know that particular player hasn’t returned for any consistent period of time since. If Bastardo continues to struggle, fellow lefty Jeremy Horst just might take his place. Horst, acquired from the Reds for Wilson Valdez last season, had an ERA of 1.15. While that might be tough to duplicate, Horst has a good chance of making the team if he’s consistent. 35 year-old Raul Valdes, another lefty coming off knee surgery, is another possibility, as well as Jake Diekman.

The Phillies have some young but unproven arms who will be competing for the final few roster spots, including B.J. Rosenberg, Justin De Fratus and Phillipe Aumont, who came out of the gate strong but seemed to wear down at the end of 2012 while pitching with the big club. Aumont, a towering 6’7” right-hander, could be groomed to be a closer in the future, and is probably the most impressive arm of the young bunch.

In a nutshell, at least the Phillies have some decent options this year. Competition is never a bad thing.

4. If Delmon Young, Darin Ruff AND Domonic Brown don’t pan out, just who exactly will man the corner outfielder positions?

So far, the only Phillies outfielder who is all but basically guaranteed a starting spot going into spring training is Ben Revere. The Phillies are counting on a troubled former number one overall draft pick who hasn’t played right field since 2007 (Delmon Young), a raw and (so far) disappointing former top prospect who might be in his last act (Domonic Brown), and a Double-A phenom who bashed 38 home runs in the minors last season but has all of 12 big league games under his belt (Darin Ruff).

Not even on paper does this look remotely impressive. Either way, Brown or Ruff will get at-bats taken from them if one loses a potential starting spot. Moreover, with Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr. pretty much a lock for the Phillies’ bench in 2013 and Amaro expecting big things from Young, Brown or Ruff might not even make the team at the end of March.

5. Is this the end for Charlie Manuel?
charlie manuel
The 69-year old skipper of the Phillies has made it clear he has no intention of retiring when his contract expires after this season. With Ryne Sandberg from Triple-A to coach third-base with the big club, you would think the Phillies are grooming the Hall of Famer to eventually take Charlie Manuel’s place. While he’s come close without the cigar, Sandberg has been on the doorstep of managing in the big leagues for several years now.

Simply put, Manuel is the most successful manager in the entire history of the Phillies franchise. His overall track record for this team speaks for itself, but the Phillies have regressed every year since the championship season of 2008- despite being the prohibitive favorites to win it all during several of those years. Despite the Phils’ apparent decline, you would think Manuel should be allowed to leave on his own terms. On the other hand, the Phillies might be looking to turn the page as this era comes to a close.  If the team fails to compete this season with the Nationals and Braves, will Manuel be a lame duck?

Get ready. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on Tuesday, February 12th.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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